Liverpool fans have a reputation for making banners and the latest one to gain prominence bears three simple words: imagine being us.
Jurgen Klopp, however, found himself putting a twist on that message on Monday, as he dealt with the fallout from Pep Guardiola’s Sunday snipe. If, as the Manchester City manager claimed, everyone ‘wants Liverpool to win’, the German was entitled to ask: imagine life without us?
Guardiola doesn’t often find himself in positions where a title race is undecided with three games to play. When he wins, he tends to dominate — three Bundesligas with Bayern Munich were landed by a minimum of 10 points, two of his three Premier Leagues with City were won by double figures.
Jurgen Klopp says the Premier League would be boring if Liverpool were not in contention
But here are Liverpool, still snapping away. Yes, they are three points behind and yes, Monday evening’s trip to Aston Villa has the potential to come with huge headaches, not least as the home fans will create an atmosphere that shows they have no affinity for Klopp’s team whatsoever.
‘I live in Liverpool so, yes, here a lot of people want us to win the league — that’s true,’ said Klopp. ‘But even here it’s probably only 50 per cent because the other people (Evertonians) were involved in another fight, at least until yesterday (at Leicester).
‘I have no idea if the whole country is supporting us, I don’t know that. It is not the feeling I get when we go to other places and play there… it is actually the opposite! But maybe he knows more about that than me.’
Perhaps, then, Guardiola’s irritation could be viewed as a backhanded compliment? He wouldn’t have brought Liverpool into the conversation if he wasn’t worried, he wouldn’t have mentioned them if things were all going City’s way and they were out on their own.
Yet what would we be talking about if this battle wasn’t taking place? Klopp had empathy for his counterpart, as he understands better than most how things can get said in the heat of the moment after a game. What it told him more than anything, though, is that the race is very much on.
‘I think we could take it as a backhanded compliment — if he means it,’ said Klopp, whose demeanour was bubbly on Monday lunchtime. ‘Imagine how the situation would be if we were not that close? Imagine that situation! Then the interviews would be boring like, ‘Whatever!’
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola stated that ‘everybody supports Liverpool’
‘You have to make sure there is some excitement and there is an exciting battle for who stays in the league and who qualifies for the Champions League. We all feel the tension, we can’t say we don’t.
‘After the Tottenham game, it’s not like I thought, ‘Great!’. But before you can deal with your emotions, you face 20 cameras. That is what Pep did.
‘Whatever I said in the last press conference, he (Guardiola) probably thought he has to make this point. You know much better than I do it is not the case (that everyone supports Liverpool). Nothing that Pep said will change our situation. It’s all absolutely fine.’
Those who anticipated Klopp might still be feeling a hangover from Saturday night, irascible after dropping points against Antonio Conte’s team, were wrong. Setting the tone was important for the final slog and he couldn’t have shown any more positivity.
Whether that would have been the case six hours later, after Bayern Munich’s interest in Sadio Mane emerged, is debatable. Klopp is very familiar with how Bayern recruit players and this has all the hallmarks of them being confident they will get their man.
At the moment, that situation is beyond Liverpool’s control. The only thing that matters is the showdown with Aston Villa and Klopp explained at great length as to how the weekend’s results — and the emotions they generated — could be controlled.
There was frustration for Liverpool against Tottenham but they will aim to respond
‘It is very easy to describe our situation and there are obviously difficult perspectives,’ said Klopp, who again said Steven Gerrard had all the qualities required to succeed him at Anfield one day. ‘We drew, (City) won and the goal difference changes.
‘Or you see it as we were six points behind, (City) lost and we won and now we are absolutely flying. We can decide for ourselves how we see it. There are some facts but we are allowed to ignore them. I try to persuade the boys to see it like me.
‘Let’s just pretend that we won the last game and they lost. It doesn’t make the Aston Villa game any easier but it gives you a nicer perspective! I didn’t think exactly that after the game but it is possible. We play at 8pm, so it’s enough time to create a common view.’
And the over-riding message is that he doesn’t think anything is broken in Liverpool’s system. He will urge the players to trust the process and keep doing the things they have done that have got them to this point — and allowed them to turn up the heat on City.
‘That is how I saw it against Tottenham,’ said Klopp. ‘So we keep going. Use the good things, delete the bad things.’
Klopp will urge his players to keep pushing as they look to increase the pressure on City